Mini-Robots as Smart Gadgets: Promoting Active Learning of Key K-12 Social Science Skills

Mini-Robots as Smart Gadgets: Promoting Active Learning of Key K-12 Social Science Skills

Beverly B. Ray, Caroline E. Faure
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2706-0.ch002
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The chapter proposes to outline best practices in the use of a set of mini-robots (i.e., smart gadgets) to promote active and meaningful learning in the Social Sciences. Key K-12 social science skills supported by their use include coding, sequencing, including time lining, map making, planning, organizing, peer collaboration, and the comprehension and interpretation of maps and written texts. The theoretical foundation supporting the use in the Social Sciences of is examined in this chapter. Next, barriers to use are explored before moving into an examination of one strategy for integration into the Social Sciences. Finally, the chapter concludes with an exploration of issues and recommendations for mitigating those issues will be discussed along with linkage of use to specific Social Science concept (i.e., discovery, exploration, and technology).
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Meaningful and successful civic life in the 21st century requires a global citizenry “literate in both computer science and computational thinking” (Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2015). As such, agreement about coding as a necessary skill for success within our global society has emerged in recent years within many disciplines. This agreement should not exclude any areas of academic inquiry. K-12 Social Science educators must carefully consider whether or to what extent they must share in this global civic mission. While this proposed area of academic inquiry may not be immediately apparent to all Social Science teachers, it does present a global need for educators to integrate innovative use of technology with an exploration of its impact on society across time and place. Given these obligations, Social Science teachers cannot easily ignore this obligation and must identify innovative and effective ways that allow learners to think about technology and its evolving impact on society, both locally and globally. We cannot fail in our obligation to identify ways to appropriately integrate use of current and emerging technologies, such as the smart gadgets examined here, into our instructional practices (Bennett & Berson, 2007). Integration and use is further supported by the critical mission of assisting students to acquire and hone critical thinking, problem solving, computational, technology, and decision making skills, each of which can be further supported via the use of coding activities such as the exemplar activity presented later in this chapter.


Smart gadgets are small electronic devices that operate independently or by attaching to larger electronic devices using Bluetooth or other wireless connections. Most smart devices are interactive and many are autonomous devices that allow users to connect and share information with the device. Many, but not all, allow users to interact with other users as well. Examples include mini-robots, smartphones, smartwatches, exercise monitors, and streaming devices for televisions (Techopedia, 2016). As one example of a smart gadget, a mini-robot is a small, usually less than 10 centimeters in size, robot designed to perform a specific set of tasks. Most function using a wireless connection to a tablet or other computing device. Because of their size they tend to be among the more inexpensive robots (Friends, 2013) and, therefore, have useful applications for teaching computational thinking in varied K-12 learning environments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Timeline: A 2D or 3D linear or comparative graphical representation of time and its passage.

21st Century Learning: A set of core competencies that promote collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem solving aimed at helping K-12 learners function successfully in what is expected to be a high tech, globally connected century.

Computational Thinking: A way of thinking or doing that involves solving problems, designing solutions using computer systems.

Coding: A process of directing a computer or machine to perform a specific, systematic task.

Smart Gadgets: An electronic device that uses the internet or an intranet to connect to and communicate with other devices or networks to complete a task or solve a problem.

Robotics: A branch of technology that involves the design, construction, operation, and/or application of robots to perform a task or solve a problem.

Skill/Task Analysis: Process of observing and deconstructing how an action is completed or a goal is achieved.

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